Monday 30 May 2011

Great Driving Roads You've Never Heard Of

Binns Track, Central Australia

The road out to the old Santa Teresa mission isn't the longest or the most challenging track in the Territory, but it's my favourite.

The community is tiny, with an arts centre and a wonderful Spanish-style Catholic church and not much else. Despite miles of amazing scenery, the main feature of the trip out there is the dust. The road is a 30 foot wide strip of red bulldust running from behind the Alice Springs airport all the way to Santa, about 100k's east.

Driving on it is quite an experience - I've done it in a range of cars now - a Toyota Rav4 (pictured) that was hopelessly out of its depth, a long-suffering Nissan Patrol with bent suspension causing every imaginable shimmy and shake. Today's chariot was a brand new Mitsubishi Pajero, an innocent 400k's on the clock.

All these cars have got me there and back, but they're missing some kind of vital mojo. I know this because every time I drive out there, I have the same eye-opening experience.

The bulldust road is wide, and the surface is generally flat but soft and corrugated. I drive it at 80 or 90, a cloud of impenetrable bulldust being thrown 20 feet in the air, blocking the horizon in the rear view. The surface is so soft that any camber change or odd ripple means you end up using the whole road, table drain to table drain, to keep the car on its wheels. This happens every two minutes or so.

During the worst moments, when you're skidding sideways across a dry creek crossing you didn't see coming, unsure where the road is, you'll look to your right and see a white NT government LandCruiser punching past you at 130. They've spent at least 30 seconds inside your dust cloud, blinded and showered with rocks, just trusting the Cruiser to get them through.

Try as I might, I've never managed to get a current model Cruiser as a rental, so it's still a mystery what those cars have that the ones I rent don't. It might be driver attitude - the Remote Health nurses working on the intervention out here don't take shit from anyone.

Once you get out to Santa, you realise that the locals have it all worked out. They don't need some flash battle-truck to get from town to the community. Some lads I saw while I was waiting for my meeting came bombing in to town in a mid 90's Falcon XR6, complete with (some of) the original bodykit. The old Falcon looked far more sure-footed than my wobbly Pajero, although I suspect it'd take some convincing to get Hertz to give me a sedan for the trip.


Driving the Binns Track from Alice Springs to the Ltyentye Apurte Community takes about an hour and a half (or significantly less, depending on the magnitude of your death wish) and offers beautiful views of the Central Desert and red-rock mountain ranges.

QANTAS flies to Alice Springs from all major centres. Five car rental companies at the airport will supply a 4WD for the week for around $750, but ColumnShift Media readers would realise you could buy an HQ ute for less, do the same trip and have more fun.


  1. I think Dan needs to take a trip outback with you Nick! Would definitely get some decent shots out by starlight, desert, some more desert, and finally - some desert! Looks like you had an awesome trip though!

  2. TotaLly agree - The Finke Desert Race is on this weekend, town is full of awesome machinery and it would be great to have Dan here to take some pics for a story.

    Wishful thinking at the moment though - our average paycheque for an article wouldn't cover our bar tab for a weekend in Alice!